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Volume 574: debated on Monday 27 January 2014

5. What steps she is taking to prevent harassment through the sending of unsolicited sexual images via the internet and telephone. (902169)

The coalition Government takes all forms of harassment, whether online or offline, very seriously. We have robust legislation in place to deal with cyber-stalking and harassment, and perpetrators of grossly offensive, obscene or menacing behaviour face stiff punishment. We will continue to work collaboratively with industry, charities and parenting groups to develop tools and information for users aimed at keeping society safe online.

I welcome the measures that the Government have taken to prevent sexual violence against women and girls. The Minister will be aware that many young people have been pressured into sending intimate photographs of themselves only to find that those images are sometimes posted, distributed or shared without their consent, which is an important form of bullying and harassment. What measures have been taken, and does the Minister support measures to prevent smart phone use by those who are not mature enough to understand that it can result in an important form of bullying?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. We have given teachers stronger powers to tackle cyber-bullying by searching for and, if necessary, deleting inappropriate images or files on electronic devices, including mobile phones. It is critical to educate young people about the risks of sending intimate photographs. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre has developed a specific educational resource to tackle sexting that is designed for use by teachers. There are numerous laws in place that can be used to deal with those who behave in this appalling manner.

Would not updated compulsory sex and relationships education help to tackle this problem? Is the Minister confident that the police know how to deal with issues such as revenge pornography, to which one of my constituents was subjected, and which she did not get very much help from the police in trying to tackle?

I am sorry to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s constituent and her experience. The Government has made it clear that online crime is as serious as offline crime—there is no difference there—and we expect the police to conduct rigorous inquiries into online offences or potential offences. There are numerous pieces of legislation that they can use including, for example, the Malicious Communications Act 1988, under which it is an offence to send communications or other articles with intent to cause distress or anxiety.

But online or offline, the Minister knows that the best way of tackling abuse and violence against women is to have compulsory sex and relationship education in schools, which teaches our children about healthy and respectful relationships. Now that this is supported by the vast majority of parents and teachers, the NSPCC, mumsnet, the girl guides—all those who work in the sector dealing with violence against women—will the Government abandon their attempts to stop it and support the amendment in the Lords that would introduce this in our schools?

Of course, that is predominantly a matter for the Department of Education than for the Home Office. I have discussed the matter with my colleagues in the DFE, but it is worth pointing out that 96% of primary schools and 73% of secondary schools teach e-safety, either as separate lessons or embedded in others.